American Indian Heritage Month: Commemoration vs. Exploitation
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Indian Civil Rights Act (1968)

The Indian Civil Rights Act, enacted with the Omnibus Civil Rights Act of 1968, specifically delineated the civil rights of Indians as protected by the U.S. Constitution and as recognized by the federal government; in effect, it extended certain provisions of the Constitution to the Indian tribes. The crucial section of this Act, Title II, reads:

Sec. 201. For purposes of this title, the term (1) "Indian tribe" means any tribe, band, or other group of Indians subject to the jurisdiction of the United States and recognized as possessing powers of self-government; (2) "powers of self-government" means and includes all governmental powers possessed by an Indian tribe, executive, legislative, and judicial, and all offices, bodies, and tribunals by and through which they are executed, including courts of Indian offenses; and (3) "Indian court" means any Indian tribal court or court of Indian offense.

Sec. 202. No Indian tribe in exercising powers of self-government shall: (1) make or enforce any law prohibiting the free exercise of religion, or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and to petition for a redress of grievances; (2) violate the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects against unreasonable search and seizures, nor issue warrants, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched and the person or thing to be seized; (3) subject any person for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy; (4) compel any person in any criminal case to be a witness against himself; (5) take any private property for a public use without just compensation; (6) deny to any person in a criminal proceeding the right to a speedy and public trial, to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation, to be confronted with the witnesses against him, to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and at his own expense to have the assistance of counsel for his defense; (7) require excessive bail, impose excessive fines, inflict cruel and unusual punishments, and in no event impose for conviction of any one offense any penalty or punishment greater than imprisonment for a term of six months or a fine of $5,000, or both; (8) deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of its laws or deprive any person of liberty or property without due process of law; (9) pass any bill of attainder or ex post facto law; or (10) deny to any person accused of an offense punishable by imprisonment the right, upon request, to a trial by jury of not less than six persons.

Sec. 203. The privilege of the writ of habeas corpus shall be available to any person, in a court of the United States, to test the legality of his detention by order of an Indian tribe.

President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1968 in the East Room of the White House on April 11, 1968. Title II of the act confirmed the rights of Indians in the language of the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights. A month earlier President Johnson delivered an address to Congress titled "The Forgotten American," in which he proposed a policy of "maximum choice for the American Indian: a policy expressed in programs of self-help, self-development, [and] self-determination."

Other portions of the law established a model code governing the courts of Indian offenses, asserted some state jurisdiction over criminal and civil actions involving Indians, amended an issue as to offenses within Indian country, allowed for the employment of legal counsel, called for the publication of materials relating to the constitutional rights of Indians, and set a policy regarding fair housing regulations for Indians. Further, the action ended Termination as a federal policy and expressly repealed the controversial Public Law 280 unless tribal councils specifically requested that states continued to oversee civil and criminal matters involving Indians. Senator Sam Ervin (Democrat, North Carolina) commented that the passage of this act "confer[red] upon the American Indians the fundamental constitutional rights which belong by right to all Americans."

C. S. Everett

Further Reading
United States Code Congressional and Administrative News. 1968. 90th Congress, 2d Session.; Senator Sam Ervin. 1974. Congressional Record. 113: 35472.

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